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The Government has committed to creating three million new apprenticeships by 2020 in a bid to address the UK’s productivity levels and skills shortages. An apprenticeship levy is payable by all large companies with a pay bill in excess of £3m. All employers regardless of size can claim funding from this levy to up-skill existing employees or employ new staff under an apprenticeship arrangement. So what does this mean for your business? This scheme is a great opportunity for employers to recruit and develop new employees or up-skill existing employees at a relatively low cost. It takes some careful thought and planning to introduce and maintain a successful scheme, but the rewards can be significant.

What is an apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships are in-work training programmes offered by employers under which the apprentice engages in on- and off-the-job learning and development activities that will lead to a work-based qualification. Most employers will work with a third-party training provider to deliver the external element of the training.

The term “apprenticeship” is a legally protected term, so employers should advertise roles as apprenticeships only if they are linked to approved standards or frameworks.

Ways of employing an apprentice…

An employer can use an apprenticeship training agency as an alternative to employing an apprentice directly. Under this arrangement, the agency is the apprentice’s employer and is responsible for placing them with one or more employers for training.

What are the rules?

There must be a genuine job available during the apprenticeship. This means that the apprentice must:

  • have a contract of employment that is long enough for them to complete the apprenticeship successfully (unless the apprentice is employed by an apprenticeship training agency);
  • be paid for the time in work and in off-the-job learning, with the costs of the wages met by the employer;
  • have a role with a productive purpose that allows them to gain the knowledge, skills and behaviours to complete the apprenticeship; and
  • have appropriate support and supervision from within the employing organisation to carry out the role.
  • Apprentices are normally required to spend at least 20% of their time in off-the-job learning, with the remaining 80% in on-the-job learning, and must work towards achieving an approved “apprenticeship standard” or “apprenticeship framework”, which sets out the requirements for completing an apprenticeship programme in a particular occupation or industry.

How long does it take?

An apprenticeship must last for at least one year, but many will take longer to complete, depending on the nature of the qualification. The usual duration is between one and four years. The minimum duration of one year is based on the apprentice working at least 30 hours per week (including any off-the-job training). Apprenticeships can be undertaken on a part-time basis but, if an apprentice works fewer than 30 hours per week, the minimum duration of the apprenticeship increases on a pro-rata basis.

Who can complete an apprenticeship?

Although apprenticeships have traditionally been seen as being for young workers, people of any age can complete an apprenticeship, even where they already have a qualification at the same or a higher level in a different area. The only condition is that the apprenticeship must enable the apprentice to develop a new set of skills. For example, someone who has completed a degree in business may not be eligible to complete a level 6 or 7 apprenticeship in business management, but someone with a degree in engineering will be. This means that there is scope for employers to use apprenticeships to upskill their existing workforce at relatively low additional cost.

How much should an apprentice be paid?

Apprentices aged under 19 and those in the first year of an apprenticeship are entitled to a minimum pay rate of £3.90 per hour.

Apprentices that are aged 19 or over must be paid at least the national minimum wage rate for their age once they have completed the first year of their apprenticeship. These rates from 1st April 2019 are:

  • Workers aged 18 to 20 – £6.15
  • Workers aged 21 to 24 – £7.70
  • Workers aged 25 and over – £8.21